Arabian Gazette‘s interview with Rami Shaar, Co-Founder of Washmen
Rami gets candid with how the entrepreneurial passion drove him to start Washmen, the problem he’s trying to solve, the Unique Service Proposition (USP) of the business, future plans, funding and future of laundry business – and the declaration of war on our washing machines!. Here are the excerpts:
How big is the laundry market in the UAE and in the region? Who are your competitors apart from the local laundries?
The overall laundry market in the UAE is just over AED 2 billion per year. We have not looked into the region as we have a lot more work to do here in Dubai. This takes into account all the different players from small local laundries, traditional chains, and app-based services. We genuinely believe, and this is not to sound over the top, that our biggest competitor is the washing machine at home. We want to change the habit of how people do their laundry and we think we can do a better job of cleaning household items than individuals can.
Rami Shaar, you are an ex-Uber employee. How did your experience at Uber help you start Washmen?
My experience at Uber made me realize the potential of what a one-man show can achieve. I was sent to KSA to launch Uber and I had to figure it out all by myself. Not an easy task. After I managed to get very good results, I realized I had what it takes to start my own venture and be successful at it. That gave me the right drive to tell myself that I would do better.
Other than what you’ve stated previously in your interviews on the unreliable deliveries that local laundries offer as well as the manual coordination, quality and lack of transparency on clothes treatment or hygiene, what were some of the other compelling reasons you started Washmen?
As stated before, I understood that I wanted to design my own destiny, my own path. I didn’t want my self-worth and my professional development to depend on my boss’ evaluation. The compelling reasons for starting Washmen have little to do with laundry, but rather with a burning desire to build something that would add value to people around me and to prove myself as an entrepreneur.
Can you update us on your short, medium and long-term plans for Washmen?
The short-term plan is to grow in a focused manner. We really want to get on everybody’s radar and to prove ourselves as the best go-to laundry service in town. Our medium-term plan is to have a larger impact, find new avenues of growth, minimize waste and lean out our operations. When it comes to long-term plans, we do not have a specific vision because the laundry space and CPGs are constantly changing. We believe the direction both spaces end up taking will affect us and we have a good idea of how our short terms decisions position us relative to them.
For the consumer, apart from the aforementioned benefits, what are the reasons to switch from their next-door laundry to Washmen?
When we talk to our customers, they all bring up the same topics over and over; it roots back to the same underlying issue: traditional laundries have less operational skills, meaning that you keep on calling a driver that postpones your delivery, quality standards are not met and all in all customer are frustrated by poor customer experience. Our mission is to make laundry great again! We want customers to be wowed by our laundry service from sign up to receiving their laundry clean and super fresh. We want them to have that sense of relief when it comes to laundry. That’s why we are absolutely meticulous about every little detail of the customer journey. From seamless payments to live chat customer support to eco-friendly EU imported detergents, to the design of our app and even our vans…we have designed a service to neutralize all the pain points and make the customer journey a piece of art.
We see the whole customer journey (from sign up to delivery) like the mechanism of a high-end watch and ourselves as Swiss watchmakers. We seek beauty in the mechanism and we want customers to feel that it’s not just another laundromat.
Can you detail us on how the hygiene factor is taken care?
For the Wash and Fold service specifically, we emulate the process of washing garments at home. We clean each individual’s clothes separately. We don’t mix two bags that are given to us in order to save cost by utilizing our machines more. For the other two services that take place in our facility, items are sorted out by the customer and split by colors.
The people sorting the clothes in the laundry and handling the clothes wear gloves and masks; this serves to protect them as well as the customer. We have antibacterial dispensers all over the facility. When the team is folding the clothes, they use it.
To achieve this high level of hygienic standards we only use 5-star laundry facilities here in the UAE. In fact, if you were to visit them, you would realize that they look more like high tech labs than washing facilities.
You’ve recently launched Wash Everything Bag. How’s this initiative performing?
The initiatives have seen an incredible adoption and increasing popularity. The increase was steady until this December. We saw a 90% increase in adoption of Wash and Fold as soon as we dropped our prices to AED 49 from the AED 79 we started with.
The product itself is quite unbeatable. I can’t think of anyone else in the market currently who gives the opportunity to have 10kg of clothes washed, dried and neatly folded for less than AED 50? This is the equivalent of at least two to three full loads at home. For AED 49, you can have all of your weekly laundry done, without ever having to do it yourself. Customers might be skeptical at first, thinking that there might be a catch. But when they try us and they actually see there is no catch, they literally get addicted to it. Our retention rate is very high. As I said before, our goal is to always create an angle where customers can really feel that WOW effect. We call it “extra care”. With Wash and Fold, you have that extra care feeling at a reasonable price of AED 49.
Washmen is a very lean company. How do you service a city like Dubai with that kind of workforce?
The senior team all come from corporate backgrounds, but with a very strong interest in building lean processes that are constantly optimized. The whole philosophy we follow is to do always more with always less. It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but when you optimize your processes with this mantra in mind, you end up realizing that you can actually do a lot more with what you currently have. I’ll give you a very specific example. We were initially focused on Classic Orders, because we assumed that people absolutely needed to have control on the time window for both pick up and delivery. After looking at our figures, we understood that our assumptions were actually wrong. The large majority of customers didn’t care about having a driver knocking on the door and coming at a specific time. What we found out is, as long as customers would receive their clothes when coming back home from the office, then Washmen was doing its job properly. Building on this insight, we decided to launch INSTA-ORDER. INSTA-ORDER is a new way of doing laundry: you don’t need to interact with the driver, you don’t need to select a specific time all you need to do is to place an order and receive it either before or after 8 pm based on your working schedule. On the supply side with INSTA-ORDER, we managed to optimize the route of our drivers, where we basically would schedule multiple pickups per zone. Therefore, we ended up needing 20% fewer drivers and an increase in overall orders by 35%. Do more with less!
What’s special about the Washmen App? Can you provide details like if your algorithm has got any advantages?
What is really special about the Washmen App is not its algorithm or anything really tech related. It’s the people behind it that makes it so special. We worked really closely to figure out an elegant design and a beautiful flow. With the tools we had, we managed to create an app that is the least bulky of all laundry apps out there… and some of those apps have huge teams of in-house developers. We are constantly optimizing and we are proud that in two years of business, our app had only one minor incident of downtime despite an insane 40% average user growth month on month.
Can you detail on Washmen investments so far from start to where you are now and the future funding routes/plans?
Given my background in investment banking and private equity, I have managed with Jad, to be the fastest pitching project out of Flat6Labs to get 400K USD in seed funding. Flat6Labs is the region’s largest startup accelerated/incubator.
When it comes to the future, we don’t really like to disclose our plans when it for the simple reason that we don’t like to get in the way too over our heads on future plans. We just want to keep it real and WOW our customers consistently. We will only achieve this by staying on focused on our current plans on hand.
Being incubated at Flat6Labs, can you share what are the specific advantages of being with them and if there is anything specific that you’d like to see them help/support?
Aside from the financial support, being part of Flat6Labs is amazing because you get access to a lot of knowledge and a supporting network that is extremely beneficial not only for the growth of the company but even for personal growth that has definitely positive spillovers for the company.
The founders of Washmen spent one month as drivers during their launch phase to get to know their customers personally. What did you learn?
Well, we had no choice at the beginning! We had to hustle our way through and in that month we learned the basics of the operational model of Washmen. We understood the constraints that drivers would face, the loopholes in our model, it gave us confidence in the validity of our business. It was such a beneficial experience! I don’t think Washmen would be the same without spending that month on the road. Some of our best ideas on operations still come when we accompany drivers on field days.
You’ve partnered with a few high-quality laundromat facilities. How do you ensure quality and uniformity?
We visit laundries and meet with the laundry managers and operations managers. We test them on their understanding of preemptive and proactive maintenance and their daily maintenance schedules. We assess their choice of detergents, pressing machinery, staff experience, etc… If they pass, we then choose whether to partner with them or not based on our assessment of how effectively and quickly they will be able to adopt our SOPs and meet our standards. We will cut ties with a laundry if we see they are underperforming.
Scaling a laundry is not straightforward. It’s not a linear process. Quality is a function of quantity and we learned that most laundries can do great work with a few clothes but become very inconsistent with scale at delivering the same great quality. We studied the laundries that had experience operating at scale and that did well at it, and then we transferred their know-how to our other partners who were open to learning. We would manage their growth slowly and provide them with constant feedback on their performance. We would slowly increase their quantities if their performance was consistently good. We support this with dashboards and analytics that allow us to see how each laundry is performing in real-time. This allows us to keep a strong pulse on our quality and allows us to react in real-time. All this allows us to deliver consistent quality across our laundries.
In one of your earlier interviews, you said Washmen is already profitable on an operating basis. How much money are you making now? How do you plan to boost the profitability further?
Our plan to boost profitability is to focus on the right areas of our business and grow them on a consistent basis. We really think that by getting into the everyday laundry market we can capture a whole additional share that nobody really competes on. The dollar amount is currently undisclosable. Overall profitability is within reach. If we want to become cash flow positive tomorrow, we can do so.
What’s the future of laundry according to you?
I believe we are the future of laundry. I believe that in 2018, people should not own washing machines anymore. Washing machines, especially in a city like Dubai, are a waste of money, space and time. People should be able to have their clothes neat and proper at their doorsteps by just clicking a button. People shouldn’t worry about doing their laundry, they should leave it to a professional care that can deliver a 5-star experience for an efficient pricing.